Forget what you’ve learned about beauty and aging from Western culture, because there’s a good chance most of it is making you miserable. Instead, look to the east and the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for new insight. In her new book, Inner Beauty: Looking, Feeling and Being Your Best, Dr. Xiaolan Zhao offers Western readers beauty advice from a TCM perspective.
Here are five changes you can make to look, feel, and be your best self from Dr. Zhao:
1. Redefine beauty: In the west, beauty is synonymous with youth. Our preoccupation with external appearances is making a lot of women unhappy, and in many cases, ill, Dr. Zhao believes, and that needs to change.
Start by redefining your terms. “Beauty, according to TCM, is health,” she explains. Take care of your emotional, physical and spiritual health rather than focusing solely on your appearance and you’ll “shine from inside to outside.” Your skin, which in TCM is the mirror of internal being, will glow with radiant vitality.
2. Don’t eat your feelings — acknowledge them: Emotions are a primary cause of illness in TCM. According to Dr. Zhao, excessive feelings of anger, anxiety — even joy — block “chi” or “life force.” When you address the causes of distress you can make positive, lasting changes. “I emphasize emotional [health] because, for example, many people don’t eat because they’re hungry — they eat because they’re emotional,” she says.
3. Hit the pillow — not Starbucks — when you’re tired: If you have to drink five cups of coffee to stay awake at work then you don’t need another latte — you need a nap. “Lifestyle is a reflection of how much you’re connected with your body,” says Dr. Zhao. If you’re constantly tuning our your body’s distress signals, you’re in a state of disharmony.
TCM strives for balance in all aspects of life, so apply that idea to diet, activity and rest. “Eat three meals a day at a set time,” and make sure your diet is plentiful in healthy whole foods, she recommends. Balance physical activity with equal rest and relaxation.
4. Breathe like you mean it: Clearly, we’re all breathing, but not all of us are breathing properly. “In TCM, breathing is so important because that’s the chi, the life force. Chi comes from your breathing,” explains Dr. Zhao. Breathing with awareness — allowing your lungs to expand as you inhale and your diaphragm and lower belly to contract as you inhale — is a “cheap” way to improve your health, she says, even if you only do it for a few minutes a day. Add a regular practice of breath-focused meditation to your life and you double the physical and emotional benefits — Dr. Zhao calls meditation a “shortcut” to wellness.
5. Embrace age: Aging is not a disease and wrinkles aren’t a symptom of illness, so stop searching for a cure and enjoy your life right now. “Life is seasonal,” says Dr. Zhao. “We can’t change the four seasons.” But we can make them enjoyable.
Turn your focus toward longevity and make positive changes that serve that goal. Good health lengthens our lives and keeps us in the presence of our loved ones — and when you think about it, that’s pretty beautiful.